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Bangladesh regulator orders telcos to stop providing free access to social media

Posted by | Apps, Asia, bangladesh, Facebook, Free Basics, Government, india, Mobile, Social, TC, zero-rating | No Comments

Bangladesh’s regulator has ordered telecom operators and other internet providers in the nation to stop providing free access to social media services, becoming the latest market in Asia to take a partial stand against zero-rating deals.

Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, the local regulator, said late last week that it had moved to take this decision because free usage of social media services had spurred their misuse by some people to commit crimes. Local outlet Business Standard first reported about the development. Bangladesh is one of the largest internet markets in Asia with more than 100 million online users.

Technology companies such as Facebook and Twitter have struck partnerships, more popularly known as zero-rating deals, with telecom operators and other internet providers in several markets in the past decade to make their services free to users to accelerate growth. Typically, tech companies bankroll the cost of data consumption of users as part of these deals.

In Bangladesh, such zero-rating deals have been popular for several years, said Ahad Mohammad, chief executive of Bongo, an on-demand streaming service, in an interview with TechCrunch (Extra Crunch membership required) .

Grameenphone and Robi Axiata, two of the largest telecom operators in Bangladesh, enable their mobile subscribers to access a handful of services of their partners even when their phones have run out of credit. Both telecom firms have said they are in the process to comply with Dhaka’s order.

It remains unclear whether Free Basics, a program run by Facebook in dozens of markets through which it offers unlimited access to select services at no cost, will continue its presence in Bangladesh after the nation’s order. Facebook relies on telecom networks to offer data access for its Free Basics program.

In Bangladesh, Facebook struck deals with Grameenphone and Robi Axiata, according to its official website, where Facebook continues to identify Bangladesh among dozens of markets where Free Basics is operational.

Several nations in recent years have balked at zero-rating arrangements — though they have often cited different reasons. India banned Free Basics in early 2016 on the grounds that Facebook’s initiative was violating the principles of net neutrality.

Free Basics also ended its program in Myanmar and several other markets in 2017 and 2018. Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

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AR 1.0 is dead: Here’s what it got wrong

Posted by | app-store, Apple, apple inc, augmented reality, consumer products, Developer, Emerging-Technologies, Extra Crunch, Facebook, Gaming, Google, hardware, Magic Leap, Market Analysis, mixed reality, Mobile, operating systems, smartglasses, Startups, TC, Virtual reality, Wearables | No Comments

The first wave of AR startups offering smart glasses is now over, with a few exceptions.

Google acquired North this week for an undisclosed sum. The Canadian company had raised nearly $200 million, but the release of its Focals 2.0 smart glasses has been cancelled, a bittersweet end for its soft landing.

Many AR startups before North made huge promises and raised huge amounts of capital before flaring out in a similarly dramatic fashion.

The technology was almost there in a lot of cases, but the real issue was that the stakes to beat the major players to market were so high that many entrants pushed out boring, general consumer products. In a race to be everything for everybody, the industry relied on nascent developer platforms to do the dirty work of building their early use cases, which contributed heavily to nonexistent user adoption.

A key error of this batch was thinking that an AR glasses company was hardware-first, when the reality is that the missing value is almost entirely centered on missing first-party software experiences. To succeed, the next generation of consumer AR glasses will have to nail this.

Image Credits: ODG

App ecosystems alone don’t create product-market fit

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Facebook tests Forecast, an app for making predictions about world events, like COVID-19

Posted by | Apps, Facebook, Mobile, Social | No Comments

Forecast, a new project from Facebook’s internal R&D group, NPE Team, is launching today to build a community around predictions. The iOS app will allow users to ask questions and then use in-app points to make predictions about what might happen in the future. Users can also create, discuss and view these crowdsourced predictions.

At launch, only invited participants in the U.S. and Canada will be allowed to make predictions and engage in conversations while the app is in beta testing. But these predictions and related discussions will be publicly accessible on the Forecast website, and made shareable.

Before today, Facebook tested the product internally with a small set of employees. Their initial forecasts will form the initial core content in the app at launch.

Starting now, Facebook will invite members of the health, research and academic communities to make predictions about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the world.

Image Credits: Facebook

At a time when Facebook and other major tech platforms are under fire for their role in aiding the spread of misinformation, fake news, propaganda, conspiracy theories and other non-factual content presented as truth, an app focused on making “guesses” about the future seems ill-advised — however educated those guesses may be. This is particularly concerning because much of the app’s content will focus on guesses about COVID-19.

Forecast’s predictions may help show what people are thinking, but COVID-19 isn’t a game. To understand the world, scientists form a hypothesis, which is essentially an expanded form of an educated guess. But they don’t then crowdsource voting to determine if a hypothesis is true — they test, experiment, gather supporting data, try to prove and disprove the hypothesis and ultimately aim to publish their findings and have them peer-reviewed.

The Forecast app turns the hypothesis into the end result, in a way. The app lets users make a forecast and explain their reasoning — in other words, form a hypothesis. But instead of doing the work to test the forecast, through the application of the scientific method, Forecast will track the votes a given question receives.

For example: “When will the first COVID-19 vaccine candidate begin phase 3 trials?” or “When will most U.S. residents be treated with a COVID-19 vaccine?” In non-COVID questions, you may come across something like “Will the US Presidential Election be fully or partially postponed?” 

Questions will be reviewed by the Forecast team and edited for clarity, if needed. Users will be notified if their question is published.

At some point, the question will be determined as “settled,” based on an elapsed time period or because an event has occurred. For instance, if users were guessing when a vaccine would be released, and then it’s actually released, the questions around that topics would be “settled.”

Forecast’s polls are given aesthetically pleasing charts and graphs, which can be shared outside the app. That means users could start posting these guesses and the crowdsourced responses to sites like Facebook, where the line between fact and fiction has already blurred. That could further complicate people’s understanding of what is already a complex topic: the COVID-19 pandemic.

Facebook users who see these shared “forecasts” may believe they have some basis in science and research, when instead, they are the result of a social polling app.

Of course, there is some fun in betting on world events and seeing if they turn out to be true, and there is even some value in organizing a wider community’s collective “best guesses” about a future event to gain an understanding of what people are thinking at a given time. Crowdsourced predictions have their place, as well. But spreading out specific, COVID-19 predictions to Facebook seems like an idea that’s fraught with potential problems and complications.

And Facebook’s goal here is only to test its own hypothesis — that a standalone, community-based predictions app that rewards a participatory audience with social credit will surface insightful voices and thoughtful discussions.

In the end, however, it seems like Facebook is looking for some angle that could prompt thought leaders to engage in meaningful discussions about subjects they know best on a Facebook platform. These sorts of discussions are difficult to have in Facebook’s comments section around a post — as comments, more often than not, are a place people go to troll, argue, threaten and otherwise derail a conversation. Forecast organizes these experts around a topic and allows them to debate. As a self-contained space with a vetted crowd of participants, that could be interesting. Making the data broadly shareable is an issue, however.

Facebook says the questions in Forecast will be moderated for clarity using Forecast’s own moderation guidelines and Facebook’s Community Standards. That means questions can’t mention death, or sexual or violent assault of any individual, including public figures. (This isn’t meant to be some sort of new internet Death Clock, for example.) Hate speech isn’t allowed. Questions around illegal content or those involving personal information also aren’t permitted, along with other guidelines detailed here.

The Forecast app is live on the iOS App Store here.

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How Reliance Jio Platforms became India’s biggest telecom network

Posted by | Apple, Apps, Asia, bharti airtel, Extra Crunch, Facebook, india, Mark Zuckerberg, Market Analysis, Media, Microsoft, Mobile, Mukesh Ambani, payments, reliance industries, telecom, Venture Capital, vodafone, Vodafone Idea, Xiaomi | No Comments

It’s raised $5.7 billion from Facebook. It’s taken $1.5 billion from KKR, another $1.5 billion from Vista Equity Partners, $1.5 billion from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund$1.35 billion from Silver Lake, $1.2 billion from Mubadala, $870 million from General Atlantic, $750 million from Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, $600 million from TPG, and $250 million from L Catterton.

And it’s done all that in just nine weeks.

India’s Reliance Jio Platforms is the world’s most ambitious tech company. Founder Mukesh Ambani has made it his dream to provide every Indian with access to affordable and comprehensive telecommunications services, and Jio has so far proven successful, attracting nearly 400 million subscribers in just a few years.

The unparalleled growth of Reliance Jio Platforms, a subsidiary of India’s most-valued firm (Reliance Industries), has shocked rivals and spooked foreign tech companies such as Google and Amazon, both of which are now reportedly eyeing a slice of one of the world’s largest telecom markets.

What can we learn from Reliance Jio Platforms’s growth? What does the future hold for Jio and for India’s tech startup ecosystem in general?

Through a series of reports, Extra Crunch is going to investigate those questions. We previously profiled Mukesh Ambani himself, and in today’s installment, we are going to look at how Reliance Jio went from a telco upstart to the dominant tech company in four years.

The birth of a new empire

Months after India’s richest man, Mukesh Ambani, launched his telecom network Reliance Jio, Sunil Mittal of Airtel — his chief rival — was struggling in public to contain his frustration.

That Ambani would try to win over subscribers by offering them free voice calling wasn’t a surprise, Mittal said at the World Economic Forum in January 2017. But making voice calls and the bulk of 4G mobile data completely free for seven months clearly “meant that they have not gotten the attention they wanted,” he said, hopeful the local regulator would soon intervene.

This wasn’t the first time Ambani and Mittal were competing directly against each other: in 2002, Ambani had launched a telecommunications company and sought to win the market by distributing free handsets.

In India, carrier lock-in is not popular as people prefer pay-as-you-go voice and data plans. But luckily for Mittal in their first go around, Ambani’s journey was cut short due to a family feud with his brother — read more about that here.

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Google and Walmart’s PhonePe establish dominance in India’s mobile payments market as WhatsApp Pay struggles to launch

Posted by | alipay, Android, Apps, Asia, Facebook, Flipkart, Google, india, Mark Zuckerberg, payments, Paytm, PhonePe, Softbank, Uber, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Walmart, WhatsApp, zomato | No Comments

In India, it’s Google and Walmart-owned PhonePe that are racing neck-and-neck to be the top player in the mobile payments market, while Facebook remains mired in a regulatory maze for WhatsApp Pay’s rollout.

In May, more than 75 million users transacted on Google Pay app, ahead of PhonePe’s 60 million users, and SoftBank -backed Paytm’s 30 million users, people familiar with the companies’ figures told TechCrunch.

Google still lags Paytm’s reach with merchants, but the Android -maker has maintained its overall lead in recent months despite every player losing momentum due to one of the most stringent lockdowns globally in place in India. Google declined to comment.

Paytm, once the dominant player in India, has been struggling to sustain its user base for nearly two years. The company had about 60 million transacting users in January last year, said people familiar with the matter.

Data sets consider transacting users to be those who have made at least one payment through the app in a month. It’s a coveted metric and is different from the much more popular monthly active users, or MAU, that various firms use to share their performance. A portion of those labeled as monthly active users do not make any transaction on the app. Paytm had over 50 million monthly active users in May, it said.

India’s homegrown payment firm, Paytm, has struggled to grow in recent years in part because of a mandate by India’s central bank to mobile wallet firms — the middlemen between users and banks — to perform know-your-client (KYC) verification of users, which created confusion among many, some of the people said. These woes come despite the firm’s fundraising success, which amounts to more than $3 billion.

In a statement, a Paytm spokesperson said, “When it comes to mobile wallets one has to remember the fact that Paytm was the company that set up the infrastructure to do KYC and has been able to complete over 100 million KYCs by physically meeting customers.”

Paytm has long benefited from integration with popular services such as Uber, and food delivery startup Swiggy, but fewer than 10 million of Paytm’s monthly transacting users have relied on this feature in recent months.

Two executives, who like everyone else spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of retribution, also said that Paytm resisted the idea of adopting Unified Payments Interface. That’s the nearly two-year-old payments infrastructure built and backed by a collation of banks in India that enables money to be sent directly between accounts at different banks and eliminates the need for a separate mobile wallet.

Paytm’s delays in adopting the standard left room for Google and PhonePe, another early adopter of UPI, to seize the opportunity.

Paytm, which adopted UPI a year after Google and PhonePe, refuted the characterization that it resisted joining UPI ecosystem.

“We are the company that cherishes innovation and technology that can transform the lives of millions. We understand the importance of financial technology and for this very reason, we have always been the champion and supporter of UPI. We, however, launched it on Paytm later than our peers because it took a little longer for us to get the approval to start UPI based services,“ a spokesperson said.

A sign for Paytm online payment method, operated by One97 Communications Ltd., is displayed at a street stall selling accessories in Bengaluru, India, on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Missing from the fray is Facebook, which counts India as its biggest market by user count. The company began talks with banks to enter India’s mobile payments market, estimated to reach $1 trillion by 2023 (according to Credit Suisse), through WhatsApp as early as 2017. WhatsApp is the most popular smartphone app in India with over 400 million users in the country.

Facebook launched WhatsApp Pay to a million users in the following year, but has been locked in a regulatory battle since to expand the payments service to the rest of its users. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said WhatsApp Pay would roll out nationwide by end of last year, but the firm is yet to secure all approvals — and new challenges keep cropping up. The company, which invested $5.7 billion in the nation’s top telecom operator Reliance Jio Platforms in April, declined to comment.

PhonePe, which was conceived only a year before WhatsApp set eyes to India’s mobile payments, has consistently grown as it added several third-party services. These include leading food and grocery delivery services Swiggy and Grofers, ride-hailing giant Ola, ticketing and staying players Ixigo and Oyo Hotels, in a so-called super app strategy. In November, about 63 million users were active on PhonePe, 45 million of whom transacted through the app.

Karthik Raghupathy, the head of business at PhonePe, confirmed the company’s transacting users to TechCrunch.

Three factors contributed to the growth of PhonePe, he said in an interview. “The rise of smartphones and mobile data adoption in recent years; early adoption to UPI at a time when most mobile payments firms in India were betting on virtual mobile-wallet model; and taking an open-ecosystem approach,” he said.

“We opened our consumer base to all our merchant partners very early on. Our philosophy was that we would not enter categories such as online ticketing for movies and travel, and instead work with market leaders on those fronts,” he explained.

“We also went to the market with a completely open, interoperable QR code that enabled merchants and businesses to use just one QR code to accept payments from any app — not just ours. Prior to this, you would see a neighborhood store maintain several QR codes to support a number of payment apps. Over the years, our approach has become the industry norm,” he said, adding that PhonePe has been similarly open to other wallets and payments options as well.

But despite the growth and its open approach, PhonePe has still struggled to win the confidence of investors in recent quarters. Stoking investors’ fears is the lack of a clear business model for mobile payments firms in India.

PhonePe executives held talks to raise capital last year that would have valued it at $8 billion, but the negotiations fell apart. Similar talks early this year, which would have valued PhonePe at $3 billion, which hasn’t been previously reported, also fell apart, three people familiar with the matter said. Raghupathy and a PhonePe spokesperson declined to comment on the company’s fundraising plans.

For now, Walmart has agreed to continue to bankroll the payments app, which became part of the retail group with Flipkart acquisition in 2018.

As UPI gained inroads in the market, banks have done away with any promotional incentives to mobile payments players, one of their only revenue sources.

At an event in Bangalore late last year, Sajith Sivanandan, managing director and business head of Google Pay and Next Billion User Initiatives, said current local rules have forced Google Pay to operate without a clear business model in India.

Coronavirus takes its toll on payments companies

The coronavirus pandemic that prompted New Delhi to order a nationwide lockdown in late March preceded a significant, but predictable, drop in mobile payments usage in the following weeks. But while Paytm continues to struggle in bouncing back, PhonePe and Google Pay have fully recovered as India eased some restrictions.

About 120 million UPI transactions occurred on Paytm in the month of May, down from 127 million in April and 186 million in March, according to data compiled by NPCI, the body that oversees UPI, and obtained by TechCrunch. (Paytm maintains a mobile wallet business, which contributes to its overall transacting users.)

Google Pay, which only supports UPI payments, facilitated 540 million transactions in May, up from 434 million in April and 515 million in March. PhonePe’s 454 million March figure slid to 368 million in April, but it turned the corner, with 460 million transactions last month. An NPCI spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

PhonePe and Google Pay together accounted for about 83% of all UPI transactions in India last month.

Industry executives working at rival firms said it would be a mistake to dismiss Paytm, the one-time leader of the mobile payments market in India.

Paytm has cut its marketing expenses and aggressively chased merchants in recent quarters. Earlier this year, it unveiled a range of gadgets, including a device that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and USB charger, a jukebox that provides voice confirmations of transactions and services to streamline inventory management for merchants.

Merchants who use these devices pay a recurring fee to Paytm, Vijay Shekhar Sharma, co-founder and chief executive of the firm told TechCrunch in an interview earlier this year. Paytm has also entered several businesses, such as movie and travel ticketing, lending, games and e-commerce, and set up a digital payments bank over the years.

“Everyone knows Paytm. Paytm is synonymous with digital payments in India. And outside, there’s a perceived notion that it’s truly the Alipay of India,” an executive at a rival firm said.

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With stadiums closed, TV networks turn to live esports broadcasts

Posted by | coronavirus, COVID-19, Electronic Arts, Entertainment, espn, esports, Extra Crunch, Facebook, Gaming, league of legends, Market Analysis, Media, mlb, NASCAR, NBA, newzoo, nfl, nhl, Riot Games, Space, TC, Twitch | No Comments

The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out the spring seasons for professional sports and associated revenue for TV networks, but esports is filling part of that void.

Gaming companies behind titles licensed by each major league are the winners in this unexpected shift; Electronic Arts (EA) is first among them with FIFA, Madden NFL, NBA Live and NHL in its EA Sports portfolio and more than 100 esports events planned for 2020. The way EA, networks and sports leagues are responding to production challenges in this crisis will reshape the esports market going forward.

Millions of people sheltering in place has created a breakout opportunity for esports broadcasting:

  1. A large portion of the internet-using population is at home 24/7, with screens as their main entertainment outlet;
  2. Sports fans have few competitive live events to watch;
  3. Broadcasters like ESPN, CBS, and Sky lost their most valuable content for attracting live viewers and need alternative content;
  4. Star athletes and non-sports celebrities are stuck at home with wide-open schedules.

In late March, 900,000 viewers tuned into Fox Sports for Nascar’s iRacing series, with 1.1 million watching in early April; the network has also broadcast Madden NFL tournaments with NFL commentators and athletes. ESPN is televising NBA players facing off against each other in NBA 2K (by Take-Two Interactive) and pro drivers (and other pro athletes like Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero) are racing each other in Codemasters’ F1 2019 game. ESPN has broadcast competitive play of non-sports games with League of Legends (by Riot Games) and Apex Legends (by EA) tournaments.

To be clear, ratings for these events have varied widely, but networks and game companies are rethinking how esports is broadcast, which will advance its pop-culture appeal.

Games adapting pro sports are best bridge to non-gamers

Esports is a massively popular activity with its own large piece of turf in pop culture, but it hasn’t secured a central role. Research firm Newzoo pegs the global audience of “esports enthusiasts” at 223 million. But unlike soccer and basketball, esports is siloed because it caters to viewers who are generally avid gamers. The action is extremely fast, so commentary by a streamer rarely helps outsiders understand what is going on enough to become engaged.

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This Week in Apps: Zoom gets busted, TikTok’s new record, contact tracing API launches

Posted by | Android, Apple, Apps, bytedance, contact tracing, coronavirus, COVID-19, Extra Crunch, Facebook, Google, instagram, iOS, Mobile, TC, this week in apps, tiktok, WhatsApp | No Comments

Welcome back to This Week in Apps, the Extra Crunch series that recaps the latest OS news, the applications they support and the money that flows through it all.

The app industry is as hot as ever, with a record 204 billion downloads and $120 billion in consumer spending in 2019, according to App Annie’s “State of Mobile” annual report. People are now spending 3 hours and 40 minutes per day using apps, rivaling TV. Apps aren’t just a way to pass idle hours — they’re a big business. In 2019, mobile-first companies had a combined $544 billion valuation, 6.5x higher than those without a mobile focus.

In this Extra Crunch series, we help you keep up with the latest news from the world of apps, delivered on a weekly basis.

This week we’re continuing to look at how the coronavirus outbreak is impacting the world of mobile applications, including the latest on the U.S. and other international efforts to develop contact-tracing apps, plus the use of live-streaming apps as fundraising tools, the impact of quarantine on iPad apps and more. We’re also tracking news related to Zoom’s latest backtrack, WhatsApp’s plans to enter the credit market, the Instagram pods discovery, TikTok best quarter (better than any app… ever), Facebook’s plan for virtual dating and more.

Headlines

Apple News hits 125M monthly active users

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a significant increase in how many people are using Apple’s News app on their mobile devices, tablets and Macs. During Apple’s earnings call this week, the company revealed Apple News now sees over 125 million monthly active users in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. and Australia, up from 100 million in January. Apple, however, did not note how many were subscribed to its $9.99/month premium news service, Apple News+.

Apple & Google release first version of the exposure notification API

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TikTok tops 2 billion downloads

Posted by | Android, Apple, Apps, bytedance, China, Code Against COVID-19, Facebook, Google Play Store, instagram, Media, Messenger, Mobile, Social, tiktok, WhatsApp | No Comments

TikTok, the widely popular video sharing app developed by one of the world’s most valued startups (ByteDance), continues to grow rapidly despite suspicion from the U.S. as more people look for ways to keep themselves entertained amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The global app and its Chinese version, called Douyin, have amassed over 2 billion downloads on Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store, mobile insight firm Sensor Tower said Wednesday.

TikTok is the first app after Facebook’s marquee app, WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger to break past the 2 billion downloads figure since January 1 of 2014, a Sensor Tower official told TechCrunch. (Sensor Tower began its app analysis on that date.)

A number of apps from Google, the developer of Android, including Gmail and YouTube, have amassed over 5 billion downloads, but they ship pre-installed on most Android smartphones and tables.

TikTok’s 2 billion download milestone, a key metric to assess an app’s growth, comes five months after it surpassed 1.5 billion downloads.

In the quarter that ended on March 31, TikTok was downloaded 315 million times — the highest number of downloads for any app in a quarter and — surpassing its previous best of 205.7 million downloads in Q4 2018. Facebook’s WhatsApp, the second most popular app by volume of downloads, amassed nearly 250 million downloads in Q1 this year, Sensor Tower told TechCrunch.

As the app gains popularity, it is also clocking more revenue. Users have spent about $456.7 million on TikTok to date, up from $175 million five months ago. Much of this spending — about 72.3% — has happened in China. Users in the United States have spent about $86.5 million on the app, making the nation the second most important market for TikTok from the revenue standpoint.

Craig Chapple, a strategist at Sensor Tower, said that not all the downloads are as organic as TikTok, which launched outside of China in 2017 and has engaged in a “large user acquisition campaign.” But he attributed some of the surge in downloads to the COVID-19 outbreak that has driven more people than ever to look for new apps.

India, TikTok’s largest international market, accounts for 30.3% of the app’s downloads, according to Sensor Tower. The app has been downloaded 611 million times in the world’s second largest internet market.

From a platform’s standpoint, 75.5% of all of TikTok’s downloads have occurred through Google Play Store. But the vast majority of spending has come from users on Apple’s ecosystem ($435.3 million of $456 million).

TikTok’s parent firm ByteDance, which was valued at $75 billion two years ago, counts Bank of China, Bank of America, Barclays Bank, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, UBS, SoftBank Group, General Atlantic, and Sequoia Capital China among some of its investors.

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WhatsApp eyes credit feature for users in India

Posted by | Apps, Asia, Facebook, india, Mobikwik, Mobile, payments, Paytm, WhatsApp | No Comments

WhatsApp, which began testing its mobile payments feature in India two years ago, could offer at least one more financial service to people in its biggest market.

In a filing with the local regulator in India, the company has listed credit as one of the areas it will pursue in the country. The Facebook -owned service declared with the local regulator earlier this month providing credit or loans as one of the “main objects to be pursued by it in the country.” No other financial service is listed in the filing.

At an event in Bangalore late last year, Abhijit Bose, WhatsApp’s head in India, said he believed that the mobile payments market in India, which has attracted dozens of local and international firms in recent years, is still at a very early stage in the country and may eventually see firms move beyond just offering a way for people to send money to one another.

WhatsApp has yet to receive approval from New Delhi for a nationwide rollout of Pay in India. Local media reports claimed earlier this year that WhatsApp had started to expand Pay’s reach in the country in various phases.

Ajit Mohan, a Facebook VP and India head, told TechCrunch in an interview last week that only 1 million WhatsApp users in India, same as before, have access to its mobile payment service.

Dozens of payment services in India have expanded to credit, or online lending, in recent quarters as they search for a business model in the country. A number of firms, including Paytm, India’s most-valued startup, and MobiKwik today offer small ticket credit to millions of users in India.

Tens of millions of users have started to digitally transact money in India in recent years. But the local payments body has removed most of the fees they could levy on banks and merchants to make money. The move has resulted in firms exploring other financial services, such as credit and insurance and target merchants to make money.

This year, Paytm has expanded to serve merchants, launching new gadgets such as a stand that displays QR check-out codes that comes with a calculator and a battery pack, a portable speaker that provides voice confirmations of transactions and a point-of-sale machine with built-in scanner and printer.

The Alibaba and SoftBank-backed company is offering these gadgets as part of a subscription service that helps it establish a steady flow of revenue. Paytm’s Money arm, which offers lending, insurance and investing services, has amassed more than 3 million users.

Flipkart’s PhonePe, another major player in India’s payments market, today serves more than 175 million users and over 8 million merchants. Its app serves as a platform for other businesses to reach users. The company is currently not taking a cut for the real estate on its app.

WhatsApp’s expansion in mobile payments in India, estimated to grow to $1 trillion by 2023 (according to Credit Suisse), could create new challenges for the aforementioned players.

Facebook, which like other American tech giants counts India as one of its biggest markets but makes considerably less revenue in the world’s second largest market, “reaffirmed” its commitment to India this month.

The social giant invested $5.7 billion in Reliance Jio Platforms this month to acquire a 9.99% stake in the Indian telecom giant. Over the weekend, JioMart, an e-commerce venture run by Jio’s parent firm, began testing an “ordering system” on WhatsApp, teasing the first peek at the collaboration between Facebook and Indian telecom giant Reliance Jio Platforms.

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Facebook to launch ‘virtual dating’ over Messenger for Facebook Dating users

Posted by | bumble, coronavirus, COVID-19, dating, eharmony, Facebook, Facebook Dating, Hinge, IAC, Match Group, Messenger, Mobile, operating systems, Social, social media, social network, Software, TC, Tinder, Video, video dating, world wide web | No Comments

Facebook will soon allow users to go on “virtual dates,” the company announced today. The social network is planning to introduce a new video calling feature that will allow users of its Facebook Dating service to connect and video call over Messenger, as an alternative to going on a real-world date. This sort of feature is much in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced people to stay home and practice social distancing.

But for online dating apps, which aim to connect people in the real world, it’s a significant challenge for their business.

For the time being, government lockdowns have limited the places where online daters could meet up for their first date. Restaurants, malls, bars and other retail establishments are closed across regions impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. But even when those restrictions lift, many online dating app users will be wary of meeting up with strangers for those first-time, getting-to-know-you dates. Video chat offers a safer option to explore potential connections with their matches.

When the new Facebook Dating feature goes live, online daters will be able to invite a match to a virtual date. The recipient can either choose to accept or decline the offer via a pop-up that appears.

If they accept, the Facebook Dating users will be connected in a video chat powered by Facebook Messenger in order to get to know one another.

As the feature is still being developed, Facebook declined to share more specific details about how it will work, in terms of privacy and security features.

Facebook is not the first online dating service to pivot to video as a result of the pandemic. But many rival dating apps were adopting video features well before the coronavirus struck, as well.

Bumble, for example, has offered voice and video calling in its app for roughly a year. The feature there works like a normal phone call or Apple’s FaceTime. However, users don’t have to share their phone number or other private information, like an email address, which makes it safer.

The company says use of the feature has spiked over the last two months as users embrace virtual dating.

Meanwhile, Match Group has more recently rolled out video across a number of the dating apps it operates.

This month, the Match app added video chat that allows users who have already matched to connect over video calls. Match-owned Hinge also rolled out a “Dating from Home” prompt and is preparing its own live video date feature, as well, Match says. Plenty of Fish (PoF), another Match property, launched live-streaming in March, giving singles a new way to hang out with friends and potential matches.

Match Group’s flagship app Tinder has not yet embraced live video dates, but still offers a way for users to add video to their profiles. The company couldn’t comment on whether or not video dating was in the works for Tinder, but in the post-COVID era, it would be almost bizarre to not offer such feature.

Other dating apps have also launched video dating, including eHarmony and a number of lesser-known dating apps hoping to now gain traction for their video dating concepts.

Facebook says the feature will roll out in the months ahead and will be available everywhere Facebook Dating is available.

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